Steve Constantino has seen firsthand how parent involvement in education improves student performance. During his time as principal of Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, Va., his efforts to engage families helped turn the school around from one of the lowest-performing in the state to Time magazine’s High School of the Year in 2001.

As founder of Family Friendly Schools, Constantino helps schools and school districts involve parents in the educational process in a meaningful way. His recent book, 101 Ways To Create Real Family Engagement, is filled with strategies to help schools forge stronger connections with families.

Although Constantino’s focus is on working with principals and super­intendents, he says that parent groups play a key role in making schools more welcoming. “If principals and parent organizations are in tandem, it opens the door to a multitude of opportunities,” he explains. “It could be assisting with communication or helping with home learning. It would be refreshing to see that on a parent group agenda.”

Among the strategies Constantino describes in the book are improving signage inside and outside of school buildings, developing a handbook for families, holding community cultural celebrations, and opening a parent resource center at school—projects many parent groups have taken on. But, he says, unless the culture of the school is truly welcoming, these strategies are not likely to involve new families.

To make a difference at their schools, PTOs should reach out to parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds and should try new ways of doing things. “Most parent groups end up being very cliquish,” says Constantino, who is also associate superintendent for leadership and learning for the Cobb County School District, near Atlanta.

He encourages parent groups to make meetings relevant to a broader set of parents with content that helps them understand what their child is learning or how they can help. “Parents need to find value in the organization,” Constantino says.